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The Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) is a part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 organizing the U.S. federal court system. The brief one-sentence passage states simply that the federal district courts have jurisdiction over any civil action brought by an alien for a tort in violation of international law or a U.S. treaty. The obscure provision was likely intended to deal with piracy on the high seas and issues arising in connection with foreign ambassadors. There was until 1980 little application of the ATCA.

A tort is any wrongful act not involving a breach of contract for which a civil suit can be brought. The U.S. Bill of Rights, Amendment VII of the Constitution, guarantees jury trial for nontrivial damages. The ATCA permits aliens to ...

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